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Ethiopic Alphabet: Indic Vowels on
South Semitic Consonants

About 500 B.C. Sabeans from South Arabia (Sheba) crossed the Red Sea and founded the Kingdom of Axum (now Ethiopia). They took with them their South Semitic all-consonant alphabet.

During the early fourth century A.D., the 22 consonants took on vowel indications for the seven vowel sounds of their Ge'ez lanuage. They were written with small appendages to the consonant letters, with modifications of their shapes. This method of writing vowels is similar to that of Indic alphabets.

Tradition credits Frumentius with this change. He also introduced Christianity and translated the Bible into Ge'ez.

As a youth, Frumentius had traveled to India where he may have noted Indic vowel writing. Shipwrecked on his return, he was taken to the king and ultimately became secretary-treasurer. In A.D. 333 he converted King Ezana to Christianity. Later, Frumentius was named Bishop of Ethiopia and established the national church. Frumentius' alphabet is still the national alphabet of Ethiopia.



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